How to Find Working Holiday Accommodation in Australia
If you've decided to pull the trigger and move to Australia for a Working Holiday, finding a place to live is likely at the top of your list. You'll want to know you have a safe and comfortable place waiting for you once you arrive. Fortunately, finding accommodation really couldn't be easier. There are so many backpackers, not to mention actual Australians and others living here full-time, that you should have no problem finding something that meets your needs. Of course, this also depends on where in Australia you choose to settle. The majority of travelers initially settle in a city like Melbourne or Sydney. It's much easier to find work and housing in a city, for obvious reasons. But thanks to the powers of the internet, you can do a lot of your research ahead of time and have a pretty good idea of where you would like to settle before purchasing your ticket.
It's a good idea to have temporary accommodation sorted in advance of arriving. This gives you the time to get settled while having a place to sleep. For most backpackers this usually means a hostel. Hostels are essentially cheap backpacker motels. They very in amenities and quality, but typically take the form of a bed in a 4 to 12 person shared dorm. Private rooms are also available for a premium. In Australia, particularly in the cities, hostels typically range from $20-$40 a night depending on location and time of year. In my experience, you can absolutely find something better and more affordable for the long term (or a few months) with a little bit of research, but a hostel is good for the start of your trip.
One benefit of a hostel is the opportunity to begin meeting people as soon as you land. They tend to be a mix of backpackers just passing through, people trying to get settled in longer term accommodation, and the truly brave who have decided to live at the hostel. If you fall into the latter, consider working for accommodation. This usually involves working at the hostel cleaning, at reception, the bar, or whatever else they may need in exchange for free housing at the hostel. Not the most glamorous job, but good if you're low on cash. The commitment is usually 10-12 hours a week, which does give you the time to hold another job for actual money.
Forest and I have stayed at plenty of hostels through our travels. We had one booked for the first three nights of our stay in Melbourne, but ended up finding a place to rent the same day we arrived and only stayed at the hostel for one night (more on that later). Hostelworld has always served us well. It's a great place to browse hostels and find the perfect balance between price, rating, and location. Be sure to do your research before booking!
Alternatively, you can use a service like Airbnb if you'd like a bit more privacy. Airbnb offers room rentals or full apartments around the world. These are typically houses or apartments owned by someone who is either out of town or has a spare room. They're great if you'd like to feel like a local from the start, and are typically cleaner and nicer. The downside is that they are also substantially more expensive, particularly if you're traveling on your own. If it works for you though, I would definitely recommend. We stayed at a few Airbnbs while we got settled in Sydney and wanted to avoid another hostel. In our case it was cheaper than the cost of two beds at a hostel.
Find a Neighborhood
Now that you have somewhere to sleep at night, you'll probably want to begin finding something a bit more permanent. Before you look, it's a good idea to research neighborhoods around the city. Consider things like where you'll work, nightlife, and the general vibe of the area. These typically vary widely--you may want to stay in a more backpacker-friendly part of town, or maybe the city center. Again, I would recommend Airbnb. They've made some pretty great city guides that break down each suburb with a short description, and of course Airbnb listings in the neighborhood. You don't have to actually book, but it's a great way to immediately get a feel for what each part of town is known for. Smaller cities in Australia may not have guides, but it's especially helpful for Melbourne and Sydney.
Australians call the downtown area of their cities the Central Business District, or CBD. In Sydney this mostly means office buildings and guys in suits--not particularly lively and a ghost town on weekends. In Melbourne the CBD is full of beautiful graffiti and coffee shops. It's a very popular tourist area, but not my favorite part of the city. We personally like living as close to the beach as possible because, well, this is Australia. In Melbourne we chose to live in St. Kilda, which is a lively backpacker area in the summer and full of families in the winter (and summer). In Sydney, Bondi's where it's at, although it does get extremely busy in the summer, so Tamarama, Coogee, or Manly Beach are other excellent options. It's all a matter of your personal preference and work situation. Don't get stuck commuting over an hour each way like I did.
Find a Place
Once you've settled on a neighborhood the fun begins! Start searching for a room that fits your criteria. Consider budget, private or shared room, neighborhood, and how long you will be staying. My absolute favorite part of traveling is being able to call my own shots. Since we've gotten here we've had the fortune of putting ourselves in a position where we can buy a plane ticket, get up, and leave at any moment. If we don't like a place or just feel like change, we're free to do so. A big aspect of this is your living situation. Pay attention to the terms of your lease if you have one. The lease we signed was for three months initially, which worked for us because we had no future plans in Australia and needed to work to save more money anyway. Once the three months was up we could continue staying in our house and only had to give two weeks' notice before leaving. Even if we didn't, all we would lose was our bond, which was a deposit of two weeks' rent. Not the end of the world.
Because this is the 21st century, your search will likely involve the internet. Gumtree, Flatemates.com.au, and Facebook are all good places to start. For you Americans, Gumtree is the equivalent of Craigslist. Tons of apartments and rooms are posted throughout Australia, and we were able to set up a showing for the afternoon we landed. There are also a few pretty great Facebook groups for backpackers based on city. Start talking to people you meet once you get here and you'll surely find someone who can add you to one.
There are several options for types of places to live. Australia is expensive and many people will choose to share a room to save on rent. If you're traveling with a friend this is easy, but you can also look for a bed in a double room and easily make a new friend to live with. There are lots of apartments to rent a room in, but I can't recommend a share house enough. It completely made our experience in Melbourne.
A share house is basically what it sounds like--a big house filled with mostly backpackers all living together. It tends to be longer term than a hostel (3+ months), but cheaper, more comfortable, and with more privacy. Our house, which we loved dearly, had about 16 people in it, which sounds like a lot but it was a huge house (11 rooms, 4 bathrooms). Because everyone we lived with was traveling, it's where we made all our friends. There was always someone around or something to do, and it was our own house so we could do what we wanted when we wanted. If we didn't feel like seeing anyone, Forest and I had our own room and the house was quiet enough that we were never bothered. Had we not stayed there, our experience would have been completely different.
Share houses tend to be run by a few big companies throughout each city, at least in our experience. An estate agency ran our house along with 65 others. We found them on Gumtree and organized an appointment to see our house and a few others, and then quickly made a decision and moved in the next day. The house was completely furnished, so we didn't have to buy anything extra. In terms of cost, expect to pay about $250/week for a single room or $320/week for a shared room. Rent is typically paid each week in Australia, so pay attention to this when looking for places. The price listed is usually for one week.
Your experience will vary from here, but will likely involve setting up a few appointments to see rooms. Be very careful. Use your gut when feeling out potential roommates. Read the fine print and do business with a landlord or company you trust. Keep a copy of your lease. There are strong protections for renters in place in Australia, but they aren't always followed. It's very easy to get ripped off as a backpacker--don't let this be you.